Don’t know where to start or even if I should !

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    Debbie Brown

    Would first like to say hi as this is my first post, tho I have been lurking lots the last couple of weeks!

    I could do with some honest opinions.

    I’m almost 41 and have never played a musical instrument. Never learned to read sheet music. Never had any desire at all to learn. Now, I suddenly want to learn the harp. After the shock of seeing how much they cost, I still wasn’t put off.

    It will take me a while to save up for one and I will probably only be able to spend £500 or so. I can’t find any teachers near me (Durham, UK ) or any shops to go and look at any. Would rather not rent one as it’s money I could be saving up to go towards my own.

    My partner, who is usually very encouraging, has pointed out my total lack of any musical experience, and says I have probably picked the hardest instrument there is to learn. He has really made me stop and think, is this a complete waste of time ?

    He played guitar ( self-taught, a long time ago ) and is currently learning the mandolin and has suggested I try learning one of them. But I honestly have no inclination whatsoever to pick either of them up! The harp is the only instrument I have thought about learning, in 40 years of treading this mortal coil lol.

    So, do you think this is an impossible task ? If not, where would I even start ? It would be a while before I can afford one, is there anything I could be doing in the meantime?

    Sorry for this long post, I would really appreciate some ideas here.


    It’s not too late. Many have begun much later than you. While you are building your harp fund, do a lot of research toward different brands of harp, decide what kind of music most interests you so you can find a teacher who will address that, and learn to read music and as much as you can about music theory. That will put you ahead of the game when you get your instrument. Learn as much as you can about the world of the harp–it’s vast! You never know what information will come in handy in future.


    No, this is not an impossible task.

    You are far from too old to learn. Age is only a problem if it has resulted in some physical disability that makes it impossible to pluck the strings. Short of that, any age person can learn. I have known of people in their 70’s, and heard about people in their 80’s, learning to play the harp.

    Your lack of prior music experience is not an issue. Everyone starts somewhere. The only way starting later might be a problem is if you had aspiration of becoming a professional concert harp soloist, and even that isn’t impossible, only less likely as you get older. But if you just want to play for your own enjoyment then the only thing that matters is your desire to play, and what ever progress you make is good enough.

    The harp is a very hard instrument to play at the higher levels. However one of the nice things about it is that when you start you can pretty much make even the simplest and basic music arrangements sound pretty. Unlike some instruments like the violin or the oboe, with the harp you can make something that sounds pleasant on your very first day. It won’t be Clair De Lune, but still something that won’t drive people out of the room.

    Here is the thing. You want to play the harp. You haven’t been interested in playing anything before because you never considered the harp. You have no desire to play any other instrument even if you have one laying around.

    That tells me one thing. You need to play the harp. It’s that simple and it is something that perhaps your partner doesn’t understand but that I can assure you everyone on this board does understand. No one plays the harp because they were handed it in elementary school band and told that is what they were going to play. People don’t just fall into playing the harp. Starting out on the harp takes a lot of effort, money, and drive. The majority of people who play the harp play it because they feel they have to. It’s something in side that pushes us to do it.

    If you feel that push don’t ignore it and don’t try to sideline it into something else that won’t fill that need in you. It may take a while to save up for a harp.


    Debbie, I don’t live too far from you, I’m in Leeds. There are two shops in my area which sell harps. Hobgoblin in Leeds city centre and The Early Music Shop in Saltaire.

    You may want to think about joining the Clarsach Society (I’m the secretary of the Transpennine branch). Membership means you can hire a harp from us. Google the Clarsach Society and see what your local branch is (it may be Transpennine).

    If you are ever in the Leeds area you are welcome to meet up with me and try my harp, etc.

    I started at age 32 or 33 with minimal music background. It’s never too late to start!!!



    If you want to learn the harp my dear, you give it your all!


    Tony is right. You’re not too old — I have several students who started in their 60s and another who started at 77. He is also right that you should not listen to your partner about playing the mandolin or guitar. Listen to your heart and find a harp for yourself. In addition Tony’s right that a beginning piano or violin player sounds like a beginner. A beginning harp player can sound wonderful from the first week.

    It’s important though to find a teacher to start with so you do not have to “unlearn” bad technical habits later.

    Hiring a harp is not always a bad idea for two reasons. I know it feels like throwing money away but some stores in the US have “Rent-to-Own” programs and will apply your rental payments to the purchase price of a harp. It certainly never hurts to ask. Secondly, what you know now about which harp you’d like to purchase may be VERY different from what you would purchase in 6 months or a year from now. Knowing what type of music you would like to play definitely is an influence on what model harp you might want to own. And some teachers have harps for hire and will help you decide what to buy.

    While you continue to save your money, search the Internet for FREE “how to read music” and “music theory” opportunities. There are many out there and they will help you start building the foundation for playing a harp. I have one student who learns entirely by ear, but I think in the long run there are more doors opened for you if you eventually learn to read music.

    There are teachers who teach many harp players over the Internet using Skype or Oovoo. Sarah Deere-Jones in Cornwall comes to mind. She’s pretty far away from you physically, but she does take beginning students and I have a US friend studying with her who highly recommends her.

    This is not an impossible task. Hold on to your dream and take little steps at a time. Just don’t buy a really cheap harp to get started (<200 pounds). When you buy a harp, get as many strings and levers as you can afford.

    And keep asking questions. This group is friendly and loves to encourage new players.

    Best wishes, Alice in windy Wyoming (USA)


    Go for it!


    Most of the harp shops know who the local teachers are – I would ask Pilgrim, Morley’s and Hollywell in any order.

    Dwyn .

    I don’t think the harp is a particularly difficult instrument unless you’re talking about becoming a professional concert harpist.

    Kathleen Martin

    I started at 64 and yes it is difficult, (but so are all the instruments in their own way) but it is “youthening”. I am convinced that making myself and my fingers do something that I never thought they could is good for your brain -I think I am making new neurons when I practice a difficult section 50 times. And finally my fingers DO it! That said, it is not a group instrument in the beginning or a sing along. It is not easily portable. and you may not really enjoy the beginning stages =it is a lot of practice but the more you practice the faster you get to the fun part. And it is easy on the ears for the one who has to listen to you practice . See if you can rent a harp , you won’t regret it even if you decide it is not for you.

    Sarah Mullen

    I’d like to relate a story for you.


    of course you should start, once the harp bug gets you there’s no other choice.

    Debbie Brown

    Thank you so much for your advice, I appreciate it very much. I’m saving my pennies and it will be a loooong time but I will have a harp one day. In the meantime I am reading all I can about the different types of harps / styles of music.


    Debbie, I started in my early fifties and I think its the best personnal choice I’ve ever made. I echo everyone’s thoughts and would add that I have met some of the most wonderful people I could ever hope to associate with. Playing the harp continues to enrich my life in surprising ways. I say GO FOR IT!


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